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Don't Buy The Narrative On The Big Ten

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The Big Ten put two teams in the Final Four over the weekend, but fans should be hesitant to buy into its significance.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten just wrapped up a weekend that ended up sending two teams to the Final Four.  After an up and down season where the media and fans alike mocked the Big Ten at points, the conference now finds itself sending more teams to the Final Four than any conference in the country.  Big Ten supporters have jumped at the chance to "rep" their conference and claim its superiority.

Today, I want to encourage fans to do the opposite.

It's not often that you will see this site write a post asking fans to go against a narrative supporting the Big Ten as a top conference, but that's what I am going to try to do today.  However, it's a point that should be made and a mistake that continues to be made by fans and the media.

The Narrative

Let's start first with the argument I am trying to reject.  Just about every season, the media decides to jump on the backs of a conference that has success in the NCAA Tournament.  On its face, it isn't problematic.  After all, if a conference is winning, why should the media do anything other than support them?  Well, the problem arises when the media decides to overrates the impact of the postseason compared to reality.

Take last season for example.  Despite just about every statistical measure showing that the Big Ten was the nation's best conference, the media spent much of the 2014 NCAA Tournament talking about the success of the SEC.  In fact, at one point, ESPN was running a graphic about the SEC's undefeated run in the NCAA Tournament and its status compared to other conference.  Sure, they left out that the SEC only had 3 teams make the Big Dance, but apparently, that wasn't important enough to be mentioned.  Eventually, the SEC ended up having 2 teams make the Final Four, similar to the Big Ten's Final Four representation this year.  The only difference was that the SEC was arguably the worst Power Five conference last season.  Still, the media talked about the SEC's representation.

This year, the Big Ten is the conference getting all of the credit.  After an up and down season featuring early season upsets, an underwhelming middle group, and one of the worst Power Five teams in the nation in Rutgers, the media can't get over themselves about the Big Ten putting 2 teams in the Final Four.

These are the kind of things out there on Monday:

Again, there's nothing wrong with making a joke or talking about the Big Ten's success, but the key part is to keep it in perspective, which is what this post is all about.

Reality

The thing about the reality of conference comparisons is that they are hard.  There's no easy way to compare when you are talking about groups of 10 to 15 teams.  There are plenty of ratings to give us starting points, but there are certainly no conclusive ratings on determining the best conference.  Along with this, there is also the issue of determining what factors should be considered in any analysis.  Should the breakdown be primarily based on top teams?  A conference's depth?  The overall conference?  As such, even if we use a variety of numbers or measures, there will still be some doubt.

Coming into this postseason, the Big 12 was widely perceived as the best conference in the country.  Just take a look how the conferences compared in a few metrics coming into the postseason.

Percent of Conference In Top 100 KenPom Ratings

kenpom top 100 conferece

Conference RPI Ratings

conference rpi

However,  after suffering some Round of 64 upsets, fans and media jumped off the Big 12 bandwagon.  Following that, the ACC got much of the credit and then the Big Ten got credit for its Final Four representation.  In just a few weeks, we went from talking about the Big 12, to the ACC, and now the Big Ten.

"It's unrealistic to act like a conference winning two games where they were favored and two games where they were slim underdogs should somehow change the conference's entire perception."

There's no denying that March and early April are the most important times of the season, but anybody can see the issue with these kind of logical jumps.  Just think about this.  In total, the NCAA Tournament has 68 teams compete in a total of 67 games.  In contrast, during the regular season, Wisconsin played a total of 31 regular season games and with the Big Ten Tournament, the Badgers played a total of 34 games.  Remember, that's just one team.  By itself, Wisconsin played the equivalent of more than 50% of the NCAA Tournament games.  Even if NCAA Tournament play is more valuable than the regular season, it can only go so far to impact a conference's strength, especially when you consider that the vast majority of teams don't even go to the Big Dance.  The postseason is significant, but can one game outweigh two, or three, or four regular season games?  There has to be a limit.

When this is taken into consideration, a much more accurate picture appears.  Is the Big Ten a good conference?  Absolutely and there is no debating that.  Perhaps it is a notch back from the Big 12, but it's right there with the ACC and Big East and considering that it probably should get a bit of a boost from the postseason, it might even deserve to be a solid #2 this season.  However, just because Michigan State and Wisconsin were able to pull off victories over the weekend can't outweigh months of games alone.  In fact, MSU was actually favored against Louisville and Wisconsin was a slim underdog to Arizona.  In fact, the Big Ten really didn't move up much at all from the end of the Round of 32 to the end of the Elite Eight considering that the Big Ten was favored against Louisville and North Carolina and slim underdogs to Arizona and Oklahoma.  Sure, it was a boost, but it's unrealistic to act like a conference winning two games where they were favored and two games where they were slim underdogs should somehow change the conference's entire perception.

Overall

There are plenty of arguments to make regarding conference strength, but buying into the narrative created regarding the Big Ten winning a few games over the weekend can't realistically be expected to outweigh months of games played by the entire conference.  The Big Ten is certainly a really good conference and has set itself up very well for future seasons, but acting like two games on Saturday and Sunday are the sole reason the conference is good is simply ridiculous.